by Josh Bryant
World’s Strongest Man Competitors, gym bros and Chippendales dancer are asked one question when venturing into public, “How much ya bench?”
As a powerlifter, the bench press is one of your competition lifts. If you were an inmate in San Quentin in the 1970s, your bench press strength determined your position in the prison weight pile and if you got to use the weight pile at all!
The bench press has a very special place in physical culture, and for good reason, because when it comes to building upper body size and pushing strength—the bench press is the king!
We are going to look at five strategies to increase your bench press.
Master Blaster, Joe Weider, had the muscle priority principle, we have the movement priority principle! If the bench press is your goal, start your training session with it. In the beginning of the session, you are freshest and have the most energy, both physically and mentally. This sets the tone! Start the training session with the bench press.
Skill of strength
You cannot just flop on the bench like a dead fish and expect to maximize your strength gains! To become a better racquet ball player, you gotta practice racquetball, to become a better saxophone player you gotta practice the sax, to become a stronger bench presser, you have to practice bench pressing for strength.
Strength is a skill. You need to develop a consistent, repeatable motor pattern to maximize this skill!
A full technical synopsis is beyond the scope of this article, but “they” say it takes 10,000 reps to master a motor pattern; focus on technique not until you get it right but practice to a point where you can no longer get it wrong.
Do more sets and fewer reps. For example, scrap three sets of 10 reps and do 10 sets of three reps in a cluster set style; this gives you more first reps and lets you fine tune your bench press set-up and technique.
From Julius Maddox to TD Davis to Jeremy Hoornstra, the lifters I coach have literally rewritten the bench press history book. Having coached over 20 bench pressers to 600+ raw, most of my lifters do not use the maximal allowable competition bench press grip.
The wider the grip, the less distance you have to push the barbell to complete a bench press but a narrow grip is safer on your shoulders. Furthermore, a narrow grip often feels more natural, allows for better drive off your chest and allows your wrists, elbows and shoulders to stay safely stacked under the barbell and maximize efficiency.
For a long time, lifters have believed that a narrower bench press grip reduced the likelihood of pec tears and shoulder injuries. One study showed that bench pressing with a wide grip caused 1.5 times greater shoulder torque compared to using a narrow grip.
Unless you are competing in high-stakes powerlifting competitions, your grip should be in the shoulder-width range, and even if you are, many records have been set with this grip width.
Bodybuilders execute exercises with the intention of isolating a muscle. To maximize strength in the bench press ,every muscle is invited to the party, the more the merrier. Every muscle needs to work together to create a synergistic sum that exceeds the individual parts.
This is done with movement intention!
Movement intention means when you are bench pressing for strength, you need focus on pressing the barbell from point A to point B as explosively as possible with great technique, remembering the bench press is a full body lift.
With submaximal weights, this is called Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT), a concept brought forth by my personal mentor, the late, Dr. Fred Hatfield. The bench press has an ascending strength curve meaning it has the least mechanical advantage at the bottom of the movement (most difficult) and as the weight ascends it becomes easier to lift. When pressing the weight up from the bottom and mechanical advantage improves, the weight becomes easier to lift, this is where most lifters ease up and coast the weight to lockout.
This is a great strategy if the goal is to be kind of strong by Planet Fitness pizza night standards. But, if you want to say no to physical flaccidity, you have to go hard the whole way with CAT, by not easing up as you press up, but hitting the gas and accelerating the entire range of motion!
Remember, force is mass x acceleration; you are 100 percent responsible for the acceleration variable. Training this way expedites strength gains!
If the weight is heavy, have the intention to move it fast and even it moves at a snails pace you still will get the explosive strength benefits. If the weight is light, I want you to move it faster than the Mexican Two Step and you will get the maximal strength adaptions. Intention is everything.
Furthermore, training in this style makes the weight feel lighter. Need proof ? Slowly grab a 30-pound dumbbell off the rack, then snatch it off, what feels lighter?
Train like a Bodybuilder
There is a very strong correlation between muscle size and strength. Muscle hypertrophy is the best way to increase strength potential. If your arms are short, you have a leverage disadvantage in the deadlift and there is nothing you can do about it. A disadvantage in the bench press is long arms but you can counter this by building yourself to bench press. Add size to your chest and boom– your range of motion decreases.
Training like a bodybuilder means periods of high volume in the off-season, not only to add mass but to increase your work capacity, and this additionally potentiates your ability to add strength in the future. Unlike squats and deadlifts, the bench press greatly benefits from bodybuilding isolation movements, done in a strict mind-muscle connection style.
If you are already dealing with compensatory movement patterns, you will only make them worse by doing the same movements over and over in training; isolation movements can fix this, make you stronger and even look better in your birthday suit.
Knowledge is power, I have helped many lifters go from average to good, then good to great by implementing these five strategies.
Time to shut up and bench!
I have coached 20+ 600-pound raw bench pressers, five over 300 kg (661 pounds), two over 700 pounds and the highest bench press of all-time, a 782-pound bench by Julius Maddox. I have also written a best-selling book on the bench press.
I may not know much but I know the bench press!
Better bench presses will make the world a better place.
If you’re willing to put in the work for the next 8 weeks, you’ll add some serious weight to your Bench.
Click the link below to get started today!
Bench Press Overload- GET IT HERE!!!